By Maria Rocha-Buschel
Following the news that Mount Sinai would be moving and downsizing Beth Israel, reps from the hospital network met with neighborhood residents to insist that simply renovating the First Avenue hospital was not an option.
Mount Sinai Beth Israel met with Community Boards 3 and 6 earlier this month to share details on the plan to relocate most of the campus on First Avenue to a much smaller facility at East 14th Street and Second Avenue, adjacent to the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary.
Brad Korn, director for community and government affairs at Mount Sinai, along with Brad Beckstrom, senior director for community and government affairs at the company, told committee members and residents of the community that the main reason for the downsizing is the advanced age of the facility on First Avenue at East 16th Street.
“This is an aging, outmoded infrastructure,” Beckstrom said. “We get the question, ‘is it possible to renovate?’ But it would cost $1.3 billion and would take many years.”
That amount is more than double the $500 million that Korn said would be used to invest in planned upgrades, which includes $250 million in construction for the new location at East 14th Street and Second Avenue as well as renovations to the adjacent New York Eye and Ear Infirmary, $200 million for renovations to the Philips Ambulatory Center in Union Square and $15 million for upgrades to Mount Sinai ‘s cancer center.
One major concern for members of the community, however, was the large difference in beds at the current facility compared to the number proposed for the new building.
As Town & Village previously reported, the 856-bed facility will be downsized to 70 beds, but the representatives from Mount Sinai reiterated statements the company had been in a prior press release, saying that they weren’t needed, since less than 60 percent of the beds are usually occupied.
Additionally, they said, those numbers have been decreasing since 2012.
“About 450 (of the existing beds) are occupied on any given day and 150 of those are behavioral health, which stay as they are,” Beckstrom said, referring to the inpatient beds at the hospital’s Bernstein Pavilion, which will remain available even after the new facility opens. “That means that Beth Israel is practically operating as a 300-bed hospital right now.”
He added that over the course of the four-year process during which the new facility is built, Beth Israel will be changing its outpatient options so that the need for beds decreases further.
“We have funding through the federal government to offer voluntary home care,” he said.
Korn added that this is an option that patients would not be forced to do but it would be an option available to them.
“We’re hoping that it’s something patients will be open to and it’s even been known to improve care,” he said. “When patients are in a familiar environment, there are fewer falls.”
Beckstrom noted that healthcare in general is moving towards the outpatient model.
“Procedures that needed days or weeks of recovery now need less than 24 hours,” he said.
Should there wind up being more of a demand than anticipated, Beckstrom and Korn said the planned facility can be built up by three additional stories to increase capacity by a third, and construction can take place even once the facility is open.
“Changes are already being made in the Philips Ambulatory Center right now,” Korn said. “There is actually construction going on in hospitals all the time, and we’re able to keep them open while the work is being done.”
Community Board 6 member Claude Winfield asked the representatives from the hospital how they will ensure the commitment to affordable housing in the space once the hospital fully relocates to the new campus, but Beckstrom and Korn said that not all the details are available yet since even the plan for relocation is in such early stages.
“That’s a dialogue that will continue between the community boards, the borough president, the mayor’s office and others,” Korn said. “It’s our anticipation that the sale will happen but it has not happened yet.”
The hospital’s Gilman Hall building, which had housed medical residents, was recently put on the market. Eventually the hospital’s main building on First Avenue will be as well.